Incoming county executive supports longer school days for younger Prince George's County students

Prince George's County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III held a news conference at the county's school board headquarters in Upper Marlboro, three days after the arrest of County Executive Jack Johnson.
By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 7:44 PM

Prince George's County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III endorsed longer school days for the county's elementary and middle school students, who now have among the shortest instruction times in the state.

"You extend the days, we will talk about [funding] it," Baker told a gathering of school officials and incoming County Council members at Prince George's Community College Monday. "As a parent, I support this."

The average school day in Maryland is seven hours for elementary and middle schools, State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said. In Prince George's, the school day is six hours and 15 minutes.

Neither Baker nor any of the officials estimated the cost of extending the school day in the county's 131 elementary schools, 29 middle schools and sevencombined elementary-middle schools.

"We'd love to be able to add more time," said Prince George's schools superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

He said a longer school day could help the system expand physical education and foreign language programs.

Some of those programs are getting short shrift because schools must emphasize improving student scores on standardized tests to continue to receive federal and state funding. Those tests mostly focus on math, reading and writing, and the results are a key barometer state and federal officials use to determine whether school systems are improving student performance.

Baker, who campaigned in part on fixing the county's struggling public schools system, has said he plans to install an education liaison in his new administration. How the county addresses the schools' challenges remains the province of the elected school board and the County Council, which allocates funding to the 128,000-student system, however. Baker and the new County Council will be sworn in Monday.

Largely unknown is where Baker and other county officials will get the money to extend the school day. The system's $1.6 billion budget is more than half the total county budget, and school officials recently said they would need millions more to maintain current programs.

Baker's commitment to a longer school day was welcomed by school officials at the meeting, a briefing on education issues led by Grasmick for newly elected officials in Prince George's.

"I support it," said Verjeana M. Jacobs, chairman of the Prince George's school board. "It's a good idea from a reform perspective. The question always has been money."

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